Oprah Winfrey for president? Speech sparks speculation

Actress and media mogul Oprah Winfrey has ignited buzz about a possible presidential run in 2020 with a stirring speech at the Golden Globes, followed by speculation from friends that she was considering a run.

Awards speech by chat show queen seen as sign of her having White House ambitions

NEW YORK • Could Oprah Winfrey run for president and beat Mr Donald Trump?

Hollywood, liberals and ardent fans are abuzz with speculation that the billionaire chat show queen is harbouring White House ambitions after an impassioned Golden Globes speech on Sunday night.

The entertainment star, 63, gave an inspiring "new day" speech in support of those who have exposed sexual misconduct in Hollywood and beyond.

"For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men," she said to a standing ovation.

"So I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon."

She stole the show with the nine-minute speech upon receiving the Cecil B. DeMille award for achievement and lit up Twitter with a surge of tweets carrying "#Oprahforpresident" and "#Oprah2020". Hollywood glitterati attending the awards gave her two standing ovations.

"She had that room in her hands. It was like a campaign rally," said Dr Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California's Price School of Public Policy.

 
 

Ms Winfrey is one of the most famous women in the United States, a self-made tycoon born into poverty who was raised by a single mother - a story that resonates with many Americans.

Hollywood's loathing of Mr Trump and bafflement that a crass-talking reality star with no previous government experience could win the presidency have fuelled talk of, well, why not another TV star, only one with the "right" politics.

Ms Winfrey herself has never stated any cut-and-dried desire to run for office. Her friend, CBS show host Gayle King, said yesterday the celebrity is not actively considering a run for president but has been "intrigued" by the buzz sparked by her speech.

"I don't think she's actively considering it at this time," Ms King said on the This Morning show.

"I do think she's intrigued by the idea; I do think that. I also know that after years of watching the Oprah show, you also always have the right to change your mind."

Ms King said a comment to the Los Angeles Times by Ms Winfrey's partner, Mr Stedman Graham, was a result of a misinterpretation of a reporter's question.

Mr Graham was quoted as saying that Ms Winfrey would "absolutely" run for president if the people supported her. "Stedman says that he thought the reporter asked, 'Would she make a good president?'," Ms King said.

If the speculation on Ms Winfrey's political ambition is wishful thinking, her fame and wealth, extraordinary personal story overcoming poverty, teenage rape and pregnancy to build a US$2.6 billion (S$3.5 billion) fortune, and Oscar-nominated acting career, would stack up nicely in her favour.

"I slept on it and came to the conclusion that the Oprah thing isn't that crazy," tweeted Mr Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Mr Barack Obama, the president whom Ms Winfrey was credited with helping to elect in 2008.

Mr Trump would gladly face Ms Winfrey as an opponent in the 2020 presidential race, a White House spokesman said on Monday.

"We welcome the challenge, whether it be Oprah Winfrey or anybody else," said Mr Hogan Gidley.

A March 2017 poll by Quinnipiac University that handed Mr Trump a 41 per cent job approval rating said 52 per cent of respondents had a favourable opinion of Ms Winfrey.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV that same month, she hinted that Mr Trump's lack of government experience had recalibrated her own thoughts. "I thought, 'Oh gee, I don't have the experience, I don't know enough.' And now I'm thinking, 'Oh'."

Raised in Nashville, Milwaukee and Mississippi, Ms Winfrey was raped as a 14-year-old by an uncle and became pregnant, before miscarrying. After college, she went into journalism before reigning for 25 years as queen of the US talk show scene, ushering in an era of confessional television before becoming the first black woman to own a television network.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2018, with the headline 'Oprah Winfrey for president? Speech sparks speculation'. Print Edition | Subscribe